Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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11 Mononoke Moments

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Every couple years we like to revisit one of the first and best works of anime we’ve ever seen, to bask in its excellence and wade in the gooey nostalgia. Suffice it to say, the film gets better with each subsequent viewing, and it also gets more difficult to find satisfying and cohesive words to describe how much we adore it and why. So we won’t! Instead, we’ll list ten eleven of our favorite moments, in chronological order.

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1. The first shot after the title card, and that first Joe Hisaishi orchestral flourish: Ashitaka glides through the trees on his red elk, sensing something is amiss. Instantly, we are transported to another world, and that world already feels real by the sound of leaves rustling and the stamping of hooves on the earth.

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2. Three village girls flee from the raging demon, but one trips and falls. Do the other two run away and leave the third behind? Do they wait for Ashitaka to save them? No. Kaya draws her sword and stands fast with her fallen sister. Miyazaki wastes no time establishing that the women in this film are going to stand equally with men in all things: courage, intelligence, strength…and general badassery.

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3. Ashitaka learns his fate, from another strong woman, the village oracle. In this scene, we see the desperation of the men sitting against the wall. Ashitaka is the youngest there, the last best hope for the village; his sudden exile crushes them. But Ashitaka does not flinch from the task before him. He chooses to stand and face his fate.

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4. Ashitaka and Kaya’s farewell gets to us every time, but the sorrow of that little scene is soon put behind Ashitaka as he begins the next chapter of his life, out in the sprawling world, full of mysteries and wonders and infinite possibilities. The soaring, epic music and staggeringly vast, gorgeous vistas contribute to create one of the best traveling montages in all of cinema – and this is only the beginning.

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5. Ashitaka first spots San. When he braves the deeper parts of the ancient forest with the injured men, he finds San and her wolf tribe licking their wounds after a raid. Mononoke is sucking blood out of Moro and when she spots Ashitaka, delays spitting it out for just one brilliant moment. Ashitaka leaps up and gives a Big Dumb Hero Speech, to which the wolves respond by simply walking off. San replies with one word: “Leave.” San don’t give a shit about him…not yet, anyway.

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6. The first clash of Eboshi and San. Lady Eboshi is one of our favorite antiheroes in anime. Cunning, ruthless, and sexy, we never learn her true motivations. Perhaps she had a tough upbringing that steeled her for competing and succeeding in a male-dominated world, and wishes to carry that tradition on with other women with unfortunate pasts. She gives lepers and brothel workers honest jobs and happy lives, and makes a huge profit off of it.

San herself is a less complex but no less compelling character. We know for a fact her human parents discarded her. Whether they didn’t want her or couldn’t care for her, she was left to the wolves and raised as one. In a way, Eboshi is just as much a wolf. But she hides her wolf and her heart within, not on her sleeve. Whatever people believe about her is what she wants them to believe.

Then San slips by Eboshi’s guard and shoots at her like an arrow loosed from a bow. All speed and primal rage and chaos, Eboshi – at the last second – pulls out her thin, elegant blade of folded steel with the tiniest movements, then brandishes a tiny dagger; her first parry was a feint. All logic and discipline and careful sizing-up of her opponent. Her water meets San’s fire and a stalemate ensues, until Ashitaka’s finally had enough and subdues both.

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7. Ashitaka tells San she’s beautiful while she has his sword pointed a centimeter from his throat. San’s bashful reaction proves shee is still a human. Ashitaka doesn’t say this out of desperation; he’s not one to extend his life with wordplay. He says it because it’s the truth. He doesn’t want San’s beautiful soul irrevicably corrupted by hate. The end product of that path gave him his scar.

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8. There’s really no scene in any film we’ve seen that gives us goosebumps that last quite as long as they do when San takes Ashitaka deeper into the forest to see if the deer god will save his life. The utter majesty of their sylvan suroundings, the brief dream Ashitaka has in complete silence, the way the white noise of the forest returns when a dewdrop wakes Ashitaka up, it’s all perfect.

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9. When he’s unable to chew bark, San chews it for him and feeds him like a bird, in perhaps the best non-kiss first kiss we’ve ever seen. San is just making sure he doesn’t die, but Ashitaka is moved to tears. As are we.

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10. Ashitaka wakes up in a den, with San sleeping soundly beside him, and then the titular theme song starts up, we have perhaps the quietest, most beautiful scene in the entire film. You get the feeling this is the most comfortable and happy the two will be, as well as the last time they’re together, for some time. So bittersweet.

Shots of the contented San bookend his conversation with a testy Moro, who sits atop the stone den, contemplating her death and the death of the forest. Her speech to him about how even this place will soon be engulfed in the flames of mankind’s industry and war, and how both of them are too weak to do anything about it, is heartbreaking, but neither her cyncism or threats to bite his head off sway Ashitaka from the belief there can be a third way, and that he can find a way for him and San to live.

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11. The scenes with the rather bull-headed boar tribe and their doomed blaze of glory, as well as Jiko-bo’s strategizing aren’t our favorite of the film, and if there was a place where the film lags a bit, it’s here. But when Moro decides to use the last of her strength to help save San from being consumed by Okkoto’s corruption and hands her off to Ashitaka, who runs into the lake with her, it was a great relief. Yeah, it’s a bit Guy Saves Girl…but remember, she saved him too.

As representatives of mankind and nature, their friendship forged from mutual life-saving, trust, and love is proof that their two factions can, if not co-exist, allow one another to simply…live. Even in the present day, there are still countless places untouched by man. They are fewer than in the past, but they will always be here.

One side-effect of watching this film is it makes you want to seek out those places in nature that endure even today. Where trees have stood through ages of man, and the animals do not fear us. We will never truly defeat nature, and nature will never truly defeat us. It’s not a zero-sum game, and it never was.

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Ben-To – 08

When Sen loses in quick succession to Shaga, Asebi, and You at Sega, she throws it out the window. You leaps out to catch it, but ends up in the hospital, covered in bandages. A pair of twins from Shaga’s school mistake You for the Ice Witch, whom they’re extremely interested in meeting. They disguise themselves as nurses and visit him one at a time. When one twin removes the bandages and sees what’s beneath, she races through the hospital yelling “freak”, unaware at the time that that boy is actually You, AKA Freak. They abort their mission, then hit up a supermarket and instantly dominate everyone else there.

The Bento Club’s normal operations are interrupted by a rather reckless – but very poetic – self-defenistration of You Satou, and much of the episode revolves around the exploits of the Sawagi sisters, whom he haven’t met before. By episode’s end, it would seem they’ll be more competition for Sen and her pack in the near future. The only Bento battle happened at the end, and we didn’t see it, but we saw all we needed to to get that these twins mean business. However, unlike the Monarch for instance, these twins seem to have a lot of esteem for the Witch, and would consider it an honor to fight her and an even greater honor to defeat her. Of course, they could just approach Sen and talk to her directly, but we guess that wouldn’t be as fun as all this subterfuge…

Though they look alike, one Sawagi twin (voiced by the higher-pitched Yukari Tamura) is impulsive and emotional (like Shaga), while the other (voiced by a lower-pitched Yui Horie) is more stoic and analytical (like Sen). You has the misfortune of wearing more bandages than he needs (Asebi’s family owns the hospital, and Shaga got them to overbandage him) when the twins descend upon him, albeit one at a time.  His squirming and confusion with the dual personalities of who as far as he knows is only one hottie nurse, provides much of the episode’s comedy. His subsequent romp through the hospital corridors as his bandages unravel, and getting tangled up with Asebi and hot milk, only further justify his nom-de-guerre. The things we do for Sega.


Rating: 3.5

Ben-To – 06

Tadaaki Endo AKA Monarch doesn’t care about food or territory, he wants the title of the strongest wolf, once held by his senpai Matsy, now God of Discounts at the Ralph Store. To do so, he must defeat Sen. Sen leaves her territory in You and Hana’s care and goes after Monarch alone, but when Shaga shows up to warn You, they rush to help the ambushed and outnumbered Sen. Their hunger proves stronger than Monarch’s and they win the day. Matsy disbands the Gabriel Ratchets.

One thing we noticed immediately this week was how firmly and confidently the episode was directed. The pacing was perfect and the characters moved smoothly and effortlessly from place to place, helped in no small part by Taku Iwasaki‘s phenomenal and deliciously conspicuous music. There were no gags or fanservice. Everyone knew the score, and knew what to do, and did it. The energy level never dropped, but kept building until perhaps the best battle of the entire fall season, a downright lyrical spectacle: Sen, Shaga, and You vs. Monarch and his gang.

Sen keeps the west and learns she’s no longer a lone wolf. Shaga redeems herself by warning You and coming to their aid. You gets Monarch back for the beatdown he recieved. Matsy, who along with Endo and Nikaido was very much like Sen in her youth, vows to clean up the mess she had left the East after retiring. Just as Sen was Wizard’s successor, Endo wanted to be Matsy’s…but he lost sight of the most important things; the thing that gives Sen and You their power: honor, pride…and of course, the food, and eating it with people you care about when the fighting’s done.


Rating: 4

Ben-To – 03

Yamahara invites Satou and Oshiroi to join the Hounds, made up of “gundogs” who work as a pack to win their quarry. After a tryout with the Hounds, they’re able to get their dinner quickly and easily without any messy combat. But Satou finds it lacking; it’s boring and too easy. The food is far more delicious when he’s won it himself against a superior foe, and sharing it with Oshiroi and Yarizui, so he and Oshiroi decline the invitation and take the bento without their help.

Comparisons with Princess Mononoke are inescapable where Yarizui’s concerned. She’s like an albino verson of her in looks and is referred to as a wolf girl. But the rest of the school has it all wrong in calling her the “Ice Witch”. Once you get to know her and she lets her guard down, she’s a very warm person. Satou doesn’t want to lose that by switching to another club – especially one like the hounds. This week, Satou learns without doubt that he’s meant to be a wolf, not a dog. We think it’s a good move; it all comes down to taking pride in how you get your meals. And these three wolves are fun to watch.

There were other developments: Ume withdraws her objection to Oshiroi’s membership and association with You. Oshiroi gets the keys to the clubroom. And lastly, You’s old friend Shaga ends up in his bed somehow. Looks like next week will bring in The Beauty by the Lake, who most definitely does not resemble Mononoke Hime. Still lovin’ the next episode previews that take place the moment after the episode ends, breaking the fourth wall, and the soundtrack and action sequences continue to rock.


Rating: 4